Between the Tape –
With the biggest mountain biking event in the world hitting our shores recently it should come as no surprise what I’ll talk about first. The Mountain Bike World Championships is a massive event for Australia to host and for it to be run so well is a massive testament to all involved. And to top off the event for XCO, Cameron Wright won the Junior World’s race! For Australian mountain biking, and obviously for Cam, that is a massive accomplishment - and not only that, but we also had Matt Dinham in seventh!
Two riders in the top 10 of a World Championships is incredible and it goes without saying the future of Aussie cross-country racing is extremely bright. As a whole, the World Championships were a massive success, with many great rides by Aussie riders and an awesome atmosphere created by the fans who had gone up to watch the racing.
For me personally, it was amazing to ride the streets of Cairns in the days leading up to the race and see so many top riders from other countries cruising around, advertising our sport. Mountain biking, in general, isn’t the mainstream juggernaut of footy or swimming, but hopefully it’s just a little bit bigger now thanks to the World Championships and the coverage it received around the nation. Roaming the streets was one thing, but racing in front of a home crowd was another, altogether and it was epic. The 2009 World Championships was my first taste of international mountain biking. I didn’t get to go, but I did watch it on TV and early the next year I got to do my very first national series race on that Mt Stromlo course. I took the B-line through the Hammerhead section, but it was a start. Hopefully there’s many more kids out there right now who have been inspired by the Worlds. Maybe even another future champion!
I won’t go rambling about junior development, as it should be obvious how important it is. We have an extremely motivated and talented group of junior riders, so the key thing now is to make sure they stay that motivated and talented into U23s and hopefully beyond. One thing I did want to talk about was the potential ‘reforms’ to World Cup XCO racing. For next year, the UCI are planning a seeding event before the XCO races. The format will be a 20 minute short course race (XCC) that will most likely be run the day before and will seed an unannounced number of riders. Maybe only the top 16, maybe the top 50. As an extra event over the weekend, I think it will be a great addition. But as a seeding event, probably not.
It will be awesome to see the top riders like Jaroslav and Nino go head-to-head over a shorter and faster course, battling for position and trying to get the tactical edge on each other and the rest before the finish line. It will also be widely accessible for many people who don’t understand the sport to be able to watch and enjoy as opposed to a one-lap time trial or other such seeding method. The TT qualifying method might be a little boring without the bar-to-bar action of short course, but it has the bonus of the best rider coming out on top, without the risk of them being taken out by a low-ranked rider with a fast start and then having to start the main event from down in the pack. Anyone who has raced an XC event will tell you that this is almost impossible to come back from and then be fresh enough to fight for the win.
Although maybe that is what the UCI are aiming for. After the ridiculously dominant run by Nino Schurter - winning every event worth winning in 2017 - maybe a change is needed to ‘throw the cat among the pigeons’. Sure, they probably aren’t hoping the World Champ gets taken out and starts from the back, but the demands of sprinting on a presumably flat course for 20 minutes in the XCC and climbing around an XCO track for one-and-a-half hours are different and might mix things up enough to keep the sport interesting.
I remain to be convinced this is the right way to go. If they do want a shake up, my preferred way would be heat races that qualify riders to make it into a main event. This would be similar to motocross, with the field split and randomised into two groups of 50 based on UCI ranking and then racing for two laps of the XCO course - about 30 minutes. The main events, A and B, would be one hour long and made up of the top and bottom 25 of the two heats. It might be a bit of a logistical challenge for the organisers, but it should alleviate the challenge of congestion that makes XCO quite frustrating at times - while also giving a wider range of riders the time in the spotlight.
At the end of the day, the athletes need to get out between the tape and go full gas, whatever the format. And that will always provide the fans with one epic spectacle. But for now, it’s the off-season when the engines get put away for a much-deserved rest. But 2018 is just around the corner and I can’t wait to see what happens!